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Texas State University

Telework survey reveals COVID-19 impact on commuters, charts path forward

Research and Innovation

Jayme Blaschke | June 17, 2020

Villagran headshot
Melinda Villagran, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and director of the Translational Health Research Center.

A new survey of Austin-area workers conducted by the Translational Health Research Center at Texas State University, in cooperation with Movability, has shed new light on how employees have adapted to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic while offering guidance to businesses as they seek to navigate an uncertain economy.

The survey gauged the telework experience of 732 unique participants from 103 unique home ZIP codes who previously commuted to 85 unique work ZIP codes. Of those participants, 97.5% were currently working from home, and 63% were working at home for the first time. 

Teleworking has had many significantly positive benefits, especially for those who had longer commutes before the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants who had farther daily commutes prior to the COVID-19 restrictions more often reported experiencing significantly positive changes while teleworking, including greater work productivity, better mental health, better physical health and more use of bicycles for exercising.

"It is reasonable to expect people who are tired and stressed out from commuting to be less productive at work," said Melinda Villagran, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and director of the Translational Health Research Center. "This study revealed how partial telework policies as restrictions are lifted could help protect the health and safety of workers and have positive effects on the overall productivity and satisfaction of workers as commuter-related stress and sleep deprivation decrease."

The survey revealed that nearly 75% of participants reported no reductions in their productivity while teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three-quarters of participants said they would like to continue teleworking after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Of those who want to continue teleworking, 64% said they would prefer to telework two to three days per week, and 12% said they would prefer to telework one day per week.

Two thirds of those who said that they prefer to telework more than three days per week did not telework at all prior to COVID-19.

The study found no evidence that limited telework policies in the future would lead to lower worker productivity among those working from home. 

Researchers viewed the results as an opportunity for companies, suggesting that businesses should consider using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opening to create the necessary policies and plans for a successful telework environment once restrictions are lifted. Employers should consider ways to implement limited telework policies to improve the productivity and satisfaction of their workforce due to increased job flexibility. 

Expanded teleworking opportunity has the added benefit of fewer daily commuters on Central Texas roads, which could dramatically reduce the financial costs associated with maintaining the region's overburdened transportation infrastructure.

"From a public health perspective, decisions about returning to work as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted should be made based on COVID-19 transmission data from the whole region, not just one city or county where a company is located," Villagran said. "The footprint of the Austin workforce has grown dramatically, so we are all at greater risk of any disease or germ that can be spread by people traveling around the region for work."

For more information on the survey, contact Villagran at mvilla@txstate.edu.

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922